There is a common saying in English, ‘More Catholic than the Pope!’ That means ‘more Catholic than Pope!’ The pope is the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church, which is part of Christianity, so it is not theoretically possible to be a greater Catholic. This means that if someone shows more interest in a subject than the main actor of the subject, this analogy is used for him. A user of the online Q&A platform Quora described the non-recognition of Armenia as an independent state by Pakistan.
Armenia is a small landlocked country located in the South Caucasus region. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey have historical disputes with the state. Since the 1969-94 Azerbaijani-Armenian War, the Armenian-backed state of Artasakh has legally controlled most of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been strained. On the other hand, Armenia’s relations with Turkey are also hostile due to the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Nevertheless, both Azerbaijan and Turkey recognize Armenia as an independent state.
Pakistan is an exception. In fact, Pakistan is the only country in the world that has not recognized Armenia as an independent state. But there is no historical or territorial dispute between Pakistan and Armenia. So why has Pakistan adopted such a policy towards Armenia? Basically, Pakistan has its own accounting behind this.
First, since Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, Pakistan has sought to establish closer ties with the oil-rich Muslim-dominated state. Pakistan was the third country to recognize Azerbaijan. Pakistan supported Azerbaijan during the 1992-94 Azerbaijani-Armenian war, and according to some sources, some Pakistani volunteers also fought for Azerbaijan in the war. In the eyes of the Pakistanis, during this war, Armenia invaded Azerbaijan, occupied Azerbaijani territory and carried out genocide against ethnic Azerbaijanis there. According to the Pakistani commentary, they refrain from recognizing Armenia in order to show sympathy with Muslim Azerbaijan.
According to a statement issued by the Pakistani government in 2015, Pakistan will not recognize Armenia until it withdraws its presence from Nagorno-Karabakh. Not only that, during the Azerbaijani-Armenian war of 2020, Pakistan also expressed strong support for Azerbaijan. Moreover, Pakistan is one of the few countries to recognize the 1992 Khojali killings as ‘genocide’. In 1992, 200-700 Azerbaijani civilians were killed by Armenian troops in a search in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Azerbaijani government called the incident a “genocide.”
Second, one of the arguments put forward by the Pakistani government for not recognizing Armenia is that Armenia is not following UN guidelines in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh. It should be noted that four resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council called on Armenia to withdraw its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh, but Armenia did not respond to this call. In this case, the Pakistanis compare Armenia’s behavior with India’s in Kashmir, because India has similarly disobeyed the UN Security Council’s recommendation to hold a referendum in Kashmir.
But in reality these two propositions are not exactly identical. This is because the UN Security Council resolution on Kashmir called for the complete withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir and the partial withdrawal of Indian troops as a precondition for holding a referendum in Kashmir. Neither Pakistan nor India has complied with this precondition, so Pakistan, as well as India, has a responsibility to ensure that the UN resolution is not implemented.
After all, by not recognizing Armenia, Pakistan is trying to achieve a kind of ‘soft power’. If we do not establish relations with Armenia, there will be practically no harm to Pakistan, nor will there be any special benefit even if we establish relations. But by refraining from recognizing Armenia on the side of ‘Muslim’ Azerbaijan, Pakistan has sought to elevate its image in the Muslim world on the one hand, and to present its foreign policy to the Pakistani public as Islamist on the other. The state of Pakistan has been established in the name of Islam, so Pakistanis have enough value for such a symbolic position.
However, in this decision of the Pakistani government, the issue of creating their own image has become more important than the Muslim Brotherhood. Because in many other respects, Pakistan’s foreign policy has refrained from defending ‘Muslim interests’, because in that case they would have to risk themselves. Pakistan, for example, has actively supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and has refrained from openly opposing the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Muslim community in Xinjiang. Therefore, the non-recognition of Armenia by Pakistan can be termed as a strategy to develop a ‘risk-free’ and ‘cost-free’ image of Pakistan.
For these reasons, Pakistan has refrained from recognizing Armenia, and in return, Azerbaijan has expressed diplomatic support for Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute. In response, Armenia vetoed Pakistan’s bid to join the Russian-led military alliance CSTO as an observer in 2016 and expressed support for India’s position on the Kashmir dispute.